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How an ‘Inconsistent’ Ruling from Your Administrative Law Judge May Give You an Opportunity to Obtain Social Security Disability Benefits in Illinois and Elsewhere

| May 29, 2024 | Social Security |

When you go before an administrative law judge (ALJ) in pursuit of an award of Social Security Disability benefits, you need to accomplish several things. One of the key things is presenting enough persuasive proof that the ALJ recognizes the limitations you have and recognizes that they prevent you from working. At each of the essential steps in the Social Security Disability claim process, even minor oversights or errors can have very negative consequences, so you need to be sure you have an experienced Chicago Social Security Disability attorney on your side.

H.L. was one of those people who had some serious limitations and who applied for Social Security Disability benefits as a result. H.L. suffered from fibromyalgia, COPD, asthma, attention-deficit disorder and bipolar disorder.

H.L. and her file were evaluated by multiple medical professionals, including several doctors from Social Security. One internist concluded that the alleged limitations created by H.L.’s medical problems “were substantiated by medical evidence.” An agency psychologist who examined H.L. concluded that she had PTSD and mood disorder and that she had “moderate difficulties with social and occupational functioning.”

H.L. was unsuccessful at her Social Security Disability hearing, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled that the ALJ made critical errors and that H.L. was entitled to a new hearing.

Specifically, the reason H.L. won her appeal was that the ALJ’s ruling was inconsistent. At one step, the ALJ concluded that the applicant had numerous mental disorders and that these “moderate limitations in understanding and applying information, interacting with others, and maintaining concentration, persistence and pace.”

In the very next step, where the ALJ assessed H.L.’s residual functional capacity (which is “the most you can still do despite your limitations,”) the ALJ didn’t take those limitations into account. At the hearing, a vocational expert testified that H.L. potentially could do some simple jobs, but only if she could avoid attendance/tardiness issues and could be “on-task at least 90% of a workday.” The ALJ said H.L. could do that kind of work with “restricted interactions with others” but said nothing about how, given her limitations, H.L. could stay on-task for the large majority of each workday, as those kinds of jobs would require. Failing to account for a worker’s demonstrated limitations in the worker’s residual functional capacity is what’s called an “inconsistent” ruling, and it requires the courts to award you a new hearing when it happens.

The importance of ‘substantial medical evidence’

H.L. had proof that she only occasionally finished tasks she started, had difficulties with concentration and became frustrated easily. Nevertheless, the ALJ never explained how a person with these limitations could handle a job that requires someone to be “on-task at least 90%” of the time.

The law requires everything the ALJ decides in your Social Security Disability case to be based on substantial evidence. When an ALJ rules that you can do certain work, but doesn’t expressly explain how your documented limitations will or won’t impede that work, then that conclusion that you have the ability to work is not based on substantial evidence.

There’s a great deal of red tape that goes with pursuing and obtaining an award of Social Security Disability benefits. Undertaking this process with representation from a knowledgeable attorney is statistically shown to increase your odds of success as compared to taking on the process with no attorney. Look to the diligent and skillful Chicago Social Security Disability attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca to cut through all that red tape and successfully fight for your rights. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.